Ace sums it up: "Keep them playing; keep them coming back; in the end we get everything."


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

"Casino" is the savage finale to five decades of Mob rule in Las Vegas. When Bugsy Siegel stood in the barren Nevada desert and announced that he would build the Flamingo Hotel on that improbable sight, his vision created the multibillion-dollar gaming industry that still rules the state of Nevada. After the Las Vegas mob self-destructed in the 80s, corporate America rebuilt the casinos in the controlling image of our time: the theme park.

Based on Nicholas Pileggi's investigative reporting, "Casino" is Martin Scorsese's view of the long era of Mob rule. During the first hour of this three-hour epic, Scorsese force feeds us a money flow chart, a riveting diagram of the greed that fuels this brutal culture.

Millions of people fly to Las Vegas to play odds that have licked them before they arrive, and they leave millions of dollars behind when they go home. The flow of that money is the preoccupation of gambling whiz Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert de Niro), who has an encyclopedic grasp of the odds, numbers, and human factors that make for winning bets.

As boss of the Tangiers Casino, Ace orchestrates the women, liquor, and trappings that lure people to funnel their savings into the pockets of the gangsters who manipulate them so cleverly. Ace runs a tight ship, directing the money flood from the tables to the counting room, to the bit players, to the back room of an Italian grocery store in Kansas, where it is delivered in suitcases each month to the big guys.

Wearing satin neckties against like-colored shirts, Ace is the cool essence of professional sleaze until he falls for Ginger (Sharon Stone), a glamorous hustler. In a bravura performance, Stone paints Ginger's descent from glamour queen to alcohol- soaked addict. Ace's smooth operation unravels as Ginger and his best friend Nick (Joe Pesci) begin to violate the codes of the Mob.

Since code violation means death, we steady ourselves for the final hour, a chronicle of fierce retribution in which transgressors are beaten ferociously to a pulp to prove the point. This final bloodbath is simply inexcusable, an assault on the senses by a world already awash in violence. Words, far better than special effects, could have seared our minds with the thought of men buried alive after being reduced to barely breathing pulp with steel baseball bats wielded by their friends. The unimaginable truth of it is strong enough.

That aside, Scorsese has written a brilliant final chapter to the film history begun by Warren Beatty's "Bugsy," who said it all back then: "...and it's legal! We will control Nevada--a state!" And so they did, with the tacit encouragement of politicians and police. These movies are powerful cautionary tales for states now considering legalized gambling and should be required viewing for legislators who feel the early gnawings of greed. Ace sums it up: "Keep them playing; keep them coming back; in the end we get everything." Exactly.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Universal
Rating : R
Running Time: 2h57m

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